- Uber has promised financial assistance to drivers forced to leave the road by coronavirus, but even some who appear to meet its strict eligibility criteria have not been able to ask the company to pay them.
- Several drivers, all of whom have underlying health conditions making them particularly vulnerable to the virus, told Business Insider that Uber had rejected or ignored their sickness claims after closing their accounts, despite notes from the doctor.
- While Uber immediately stopped them from driving, which effectively cut their income, drivers say the company’s response frustrated them and left them out of paychecks when they needed it most.
- “We remain committed to working with drivers and delivery people around the world to help support them. We will continue to defend the self-employed, “said Uber in a statement to Business Insider.
- Visit the Business Insider home page for more stories.
Zachary Frenette has driven Uber in Phoenix, Arizona in the past two years, earning “diamond” status and an average rating of 4.96 during that time, while making more than 4,300 trips during the last year alone. He is also HIV positive, which means he has a weakened immune system that puts him at greater risk of developing serious symptoms or dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
On March 18, two of his passengers, coughing and sneezing, said they had just left the home of a relative who had tested positive for the virus. So, Frenette immediately stopped accepting the trips and went to see her doctor, who wrote her a letter telling her to quarantine herself to “limit exposure and the potential spread” of the virus. He then submitted the letter to Uber, who deactivated his driver account in an apparent effort to limit contact with other passengers.
“My livelihoods were in immediate danger,” said Frenette.
Frenette, who relies primarily on Uber for income, knew that Uber had a program to pay drivers who could not work due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus. And with a doctor’s note outlining his possible exposure, he assumed the company would follow his policy – after all, they closed his account as part of it.
But Frenette and several other Uber drivers told Business Insider that the company had not given them the promised wages despite their increased exposure or risk, leaving them without pay and unable to work. There are also concerns that closing accounts, but not compensating drivers who follow the agreement, may deter drivers from self-quarantining in the middle of a pandemic.
State-wide lockouts in more than half of the United States have forced thousands of drivers like Frenette to leave the roads, both to protect their own health and that of others – while those who are still struggling to make money, with trips down 94% in the United States.
Earlier in March, in recognition of the precarious situation of drivers, Uber announced its intention to support them through a policy of financial aid against coronaviruses. In fact, a form of sickness benefit, the program promises to compensate drivers for up to 14 days, with the daily amount varying depending on the amount they have earned on the platform in the past six months.
But the original policy was criticized for applying only to drivers who confirmed COVID-19 cases or were quarantined by public health officials. Given the extremely limited availability of tests, Uber policy has made it almost impossible for many drivers to prove that they had or were at risk of spreading the disease, which can be very contagious even if a person does not present no symptoms.
After a backlash, Uber expanded the program to include drivers “personally invited by a public health authority or approved health care provider to isolate themselves due to the risk of spreading COVID-19” as well as drivers whose accounts are “restricted by Uber as a result of information provided by a public health authority that you have been diagnosed or have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19”, according to its website.
Uber drivers told Business Insider that even the new criteria were almost impossible to meet. Some, like Frenette, said the company still wouldn’t pay, even with a doctor’s note detailing their risk of spreading COVID-19.
The company said in a statement that it had “paid payments to eligible drivers and deliverers,” but did not specify the number of eligible drivers, or why no driver claims were processed, except to guide Business. Insider towards its policy.
“It seems to be largely a public relations campaign … to make the public believe that they are doing something for their extremely vulnerable drivers,” said Veena Dubal, professor of labor and labor law at the University from California, Hastings which focuses specifically on the economy of concerts.
Frenette believed he met the new criteria – risk of spreading the disease, account disabled – but Uber denied his request, sending him a generic response without explaining why he was not eligible. After calling customer service “20 to 30 times”, Frenette received a response from Uber saying that his documentation should cite his “risk of spreading COVID-19 as a reason” for his quarantine.
Thus, Frenette asked his doctor to write a second note specifically mentioning that his March 18 release meant that he was at risk of spreading the coronavirus as well as reiterating the risk to his health due to his weakened immune system, always in vain.
Eli Martin, a Chicago driver who suffers from cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the lungs (chronic lung disease has been shown to increase the risk of serious illness due to COVID-19), told Business Insider that he had similar difficulties clearing the bar set by Uber, despite submitting a doctor’s note asking him to quarantine and get tested for coronavirus due to dry cough, sore throat, fatigue and body aches – the most common symptoms in patients with the virus. Martin could not be tested due to the limited availability of the kits.
Uber specifically said that “other health conditions” do not qualify someone for compensation, leaving its most vulnerable drivers in trouble. This provoked a brutal reaction from people like Nicole Knesek, a Sacramento-based driver who received a kidney transplant last year that forced her to take anti-rejection drugs, leaving her immune system weakened.
“They’re thinking of no one but themselves,” said Knesek, who told Business Insider that his request had also been rejected amid confused and seemingly changing criteria. “They changed it to work for them,” she said.
Frenette echoed his criticism of Uber’s policy of not covering those most at risk. “As a precaution, this should already have been introduced. “
But Frenette and Martin both submitted doctor’s notes who, in addition to mentioning their pre-existing health conditions, noted their potential exposure to the virus and their potential for spread accordingly.
“That’s exactly what they’re asking for, it’s the exact wording,” said Martin.
While these drivers spent weeks back and forth with Uber, sometimes waiting days for a response, the company successfully deactivated their accounts almost immediately. All three said that Uber had banned them from driving the day after the doctor’s notes were submitted, implying that he had recognized that they should not be in contact with passengers – to protect themselves or protect others.
According to Uber’s criteria, these deactivations should have given drivers the right to financial assistance, but even if they are unable to earn an income on the platform, the company still has not agreed to them pay under the policy.
“The safety and well-being of drivers on the Uber app is always our priority,” Uber said in a statement to Business Insider, adding that it had “a dedicated team working 24 hours a day to support drivers. and the deliverers ”.
Irrespective of the technical details of Uber’s coronavirus disease compensation policy, drivers have expressed frustration more generally that the company will not do more to support them when they need it most. help – and when Uber has publicly stated its intention to do so.
“Whenever Uber releases something that sounds like it is going to help drivers, in my experience, it usually isn’t or is a colossal failure,” said Martin, adding, “They don’t take everything simply not the safety of the driver seriously. “
“Uber should be held highly responsible for his actions if he wants to present himself publicly as generous, magnanimous and caring, sharing some of the burden … then turn around and completely reject, ignore and lie to the people he swears to help, “said Frenette.
Part of this advocacy was to pressure Congress to include benefits for concert workers in its $ 2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, which it ultimately did in the form of make them eligible for unemployment insurance for the first time.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a letter to legislators, also pushed for a third categorization of employees – somewhere between full-time workers who receive benefits such as health care and sickness benefits and independent contractors who do not – which could prevent Uber to have to pay for these benefits.
Critics, however, criticized the move, accusing Uber of using the coronavirus outbreak as a cover to demand taxpayer bailout.
“It’s so cruel, they are basically taking advantage of a pandemic to try to create laws and regulations that specifically adapt to their illegal business model,” said Dubal.
Do you drive for Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates or any other concert work company? We would like to know what life is like for you during the coronavirus pandemic. Contact this reporter by phone or eSignal encrypted messaging application (+1 503-319-3213), E-mail ([email protected]), or Twitter (@TylerSonnemaker). We can keep the sources anonymous. PR locations by email only, please.